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Green Mountain College (GMC), a few miles down the road from Middlebury in Poultney, Vt., announced on Jan. 23 that it will be closing at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.
As an institution, GMC dates back to 1833 and has offered bachelor degree programs since 1975. The college is perhaps best known for its dedication to environmental stewardship. It was named one of the top 20 “green” schools by the Princeton Review and was one of the founding members of the “EcoLeague” consortium for liberal arts colleges, a group of schools dedicated to ecologically-focused education and sustainability. Unfortunately, GMC’s dedication to the environment has not been able to keep the school afloat.
“Despite our noteworthy accomplishments related to social and environmental sustainability, we have not been able to assure the economic sustainability of the college,” said President Bob Allen in a statement on the college’s website.
Seven other institutions across the country, including Vermont schools Sterling College and Marlboro College, as well as Prescott College in Arizona, have expressed support for GMC students and are offering “teach-out” arrangements to help them finish their degrees. Through these programs, students may transfer their completed credits to their new institution without undergoing the traditional transfer process. Participating students will receive their degrees from their new institutions.
Vermont’s Castleton University will not participate in the “teach-out” program, but has organized information sessions for potential transfer applicants from GMC.
“We are hoping to help as many displaced students as we can,” Castleton’s Dean of Advancement Jeff Weld told The Campus. “For the students who wish to remain in our area we offer a great opportunity to continue their academic pursuits while matching tuition and making the transfer process as seamless as possible.”
Tuition will play an important role in the decisions of many students, and institutions poised to receive Green Mountain students have made arrangements to ensure that financial concerns will be mitigated. Sterling College has announced that it will provide equivalent financial aid packages as those that were provided by Green Mountain. Castleton University has also pledged that tuition would be equivalent to that paid in 2018-19 at Green Mountain so long as it does not fall below Castleton’s in-state tuition rate.
Two other Vermont institutions, Goddard College in Plainfield and the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, are facing similar financial challenges to those of GMC. Last year the New England Commission of Higher Education, which accredits colleges in six New England states, placed both schools on probation.
In his statement on the college’s website, GMC President Allen pointed out that such economic difficulties are not unique to Green Mountain, or to Vermont as a whole. “Financial challenges are impacting liberal arts colleges throughout the country and Green Mountain College is no exception,” his statement continued. “These financial challenges, the product of major changes in demographics and costs, are the driving factors behind our decision to close at the end of this academic year.”
Susan Stitely, the President of the Vermont Association for Independent Colleges (VAIC), wrote an article for VTDigger regarding the troubling trend of college closures. The VAIC is a voluntary association of private colleges and universities supporting higher education in the state.
Stitely attributed closures to a decrease in the number of college-age students. “We know that the number of traditional college-age students is declining and that Vermont is not immune,” Stitely said.
Castleton’s Dean of Advancement Jeff Weld told The Campus that these closures are troubling for the future of higher education and that institutions must remain vigilant.
“It’s very concerning when you see colleges and universities struggling to keep their doors open,” Weld said. “It’s a disruption in the industry and we need to remain nimble in delivering meaningful education at an affordable price.”
Stitely’s article also emphasized vigilance for Vermont’s colleges. “As a major engine in our state’s economy, our private colleges continually strive to restructure and reinvent themselves in a rapidly evolving higher education environment,” Stitely wrote.
These closures may have significant consequences for Vermont and its economy in particular. “Regardless of what 2019 may bring, Vermont’s private colleges remain one of the state’s most vital economic drivers,” Stitely said.
Christina Goodwin, the Dean of Advancement & Alumni Relations at Sterling College, agreed. “Colleges and universities are significant economic drivers in their communities and that higher education is one of the top reasons people move to Vermont,” Goodwin told The Campus.
The closure of GMC will have an especially large economic impact on the small, rural town of Poultney, which has a population of around 3,000 people. “It is likely that a ripple effect will be felt for a long time before there is a ‘new normal,’” Weld told The Campus.
Indeed, the college’s impact on the community is sizable and incredibly meaningful to locals. Rebecca Cook, the director of the Poultney Public Library, reflected on the college’s importance beyond its role as an economic driver.
“Green Mountain’s just always been right in the middle of the town. Physically and financially and figuratively,” Cook told VTDigger.
Although GMC’s closure is sad news for its local community, the state and the industry, Vermont is fortunate that other institutions are present and ready to accommodate displaced students.
“Vermont’s collective of higher education institutions offers Green Mountain College students the option for staying in Vermont to continue their studies, should they so choose,” Goodwin told The Campus.
Middlebury spokesman Bill Burger declined to comment on the Green Mountain closure.